'GIANTS': The Team Behind The 11-Time Emmy Nominated Series Shares One Critical Secret To Their Success

April 29 2019

For the second year in a row, Shadow And Act RISING Award winner James Bland’s original series GIANTS picked up multiple Daytime Emmy nominations--11 to be exact. This year, the nominations include Outstanding Digital Daytime Drama Series, Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Digital Daytime Drama Series (Vanessa Baden Kelly),  Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Digital Daytime Drama Series (both Sean Samuels and Terrence Terrell) and more.

Shadow And Act caught up with Bland, Kelly and director J. August Richards who shared how they have used the many roadblocks in their path as stepping stones to get GIANTS the success it deserves.

Shadow And Act: What was your reaction when you found out that Season 2 of GIANTS was nominated for 11 Daytime Emmys?   

Baden Kelly: I was and still am grateful. When you see the amount [of] work, the amount of passion, the amount of blood sweat and tears put in[to] the production of GIANTS you just really want that recognition to come to everybody. It feels like a great time where people are getting the respect they deserve and getting light shown on all the hard work they’ve done over the past 4 years. The first thing I thought was that everyone was going to get a chance to bask in all the hard work they put in.

Richards: I could see the spiritual perfection of the fact that the first time that I'm being directly acknowledged by the Television Academy is the time when I chose to be of service to a greater cause. I had a great opportunity, one that one of my best friends decided to create. He [James Bland] galvanized all the forces on his own. He turned to his community and his community was there for him.

S&A: James, while you were creating this, was your goal to become 'Emmy nominated' or did that happen organically?   

Bland: No, it was organic. The Emmys was not on my mind in creating the show. The pinnacle for me was Sundance. When we finished season 1, I was obsessed because Sundance had just launched their episodic category within the festival and I was like "This is perfect." I had been going to Sundance for the past 4 years and I had almost fetishized this idea of having a project in the festival and I thought GIANTS was going to be it.

I thought I heard the Spirit, the Universe and the birds say that this was going to happen and I prayed about it. I remember when I got the letter that we didn't get in and I was low-key devastated. I had to take a day to grieve. It was kind of like when Malachi told Journee in the pilot "You get one day...do whatever it is you do when you [are] depressed. But after that, you gotta pick up the pieces and we gotta figure out how to make our f&*ing dreams come true." I had to get into that mode of "OK the show still has to come out, we still have to find that audience." I hit up Issa Rae and she agreed to put it up on her YouTube channel.

GIANTS cast members James Bland, Vanessa Baden-Kelly and J. August Richards discuss their series during the CLEO TV presentation at TCA. | Earl Gibson of TV One and CLEO TVJames Bland, Vanessa Baden-Kelly and J. August Richards discuss their series GIANTS during the CLEO TV presentation at TCA| Earl Gibson of TV One and CLEO TV

After Season 1,  we got the nominations and we got the opportunity to learn the landscape of how the Daytime Emmys work. Going into Season 2, we were a lot more strategic and we knew that we had a[n] Emmy-worthy caliber show.

S&A: How did Season 2 differ from Season 1?

Baden Kelly: James often tells people he created the show to be a gym for himself and during Season 1, I was working a full-time job and so was he. So we were filming on the weekends and it was like four of us. James was like an AD (Assistant Director) plus starring, plus writing, and directing. When I was coming in, every script was a first draft and I just kind of looked at it that morning. James would say 'Hey bring your comforter because we need something to look like a girls room," very ‘on the fly.’

M4GwiEqCT0zrtt1XCdF2nVqWJsvS74tujyRHMPLQHbj2mwU8W18RRikE_jamesbanner James Bland and Vanessa Baden Kelly in a scene from GIANTS Season 1 | Courtesy of GIANTS

Season 2 was very different for me because at that point my baby was two years old and we had a lot more time to film, opposed to Season 1 when I was pregnant and having to take breaks in different scenes because I was nauseous. I was still working a full-time job, but I was working at Ozark that already knew GIANTS existed so I was able to take a lot of time off. Also, there was a full writers room so I had the opportunity to read scripts ahead of time.

Something I'm grateful for and that I think is reflected in our performances tremendously is that James had outside directors come in. Our first two episodes were directed by J. [August Richards]. He directed the hell out of those. Personally, as an actress, J. made me find a different level of ability that I didn’t know I had before. Now from that experience all of us feel like we can do so much more because GIANTS really became both a gym and a launching pad for us creatively.

Richards: One of the things that was the most important to me about getting involved in the show that was so rewarding for me was that there was an urgency to the production and a total lack of needing permission to do it. That honest, urgent and passionate energy was already present in the production Season 1 and it moved me, coming in for Season 2.

In Season 2 we set a road map and James brought in various directors; Xavier Neal-Burgin, Carey Williams, myself, Takara Joseph, and William Catlett. I think the 2nd season, the directors got to put their own paint on the world James laid the canvas out for.

S&A: What’s next for GIANTS? Is there going to be a Season 3?

The first two seasons will be on Cleo TV which is a new Comcast network from TV One. Outside of that, we’re figuring out what is the best way to continue these stories and we are being patient. One thing that we did from season 1 to season 2 which is very clear on the screen is increase the production value, so I just want to continue to raise the bar. The possibilities are still somewhat open and we’re trusting the universe to bring us what is right.

S&A: What advice do you have for up and coming creators, actors, writers, directors, etc?

Baden Kelly: Find your tribe. I think that’s [the] most important thing. Content creating is not a singular sport, you can't play isolated.

Speaking on the mental health aspect of it all, it has been the people in my tribe helping get me through all of this. My husband is a tour[ing] drummer for Miguel and through a good part of GIANTS Season 2, he was away. There was a text chain, where I told them ‘I’m struggling right now, depression is kicking my a&!. I’m showing up, I’m coming to work, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, but this sucks."

Giants Team Text Thread in Season 2 Giants Team Text Chain in Season 2

The GIANTS team, with a couple of my other friends, stepped in to help. Every Thursday night people would come by.  It was just like someone knew that they had to be at my house and they would bring wine and greens and people would put my son Ryder to bed. In that time, my tribe was just as much there to make sure that I was eating and was able to get off the coach as they were to big me up for my Emmy nomination. When we win big or when we lose, when we get an Emmy or when we don’t make Sundance our tribe has been there to collect us, to gather us and to hold us and I feel like every artist, creator, person of color--every human being needs to have a strong tribe.

Richards: For actors,  get honest with yourself about whether you want to be an actor or whether you want to walk red carpets and if the latter, save yourself the frustration of getting involved in the acting industry. To be a professional actor and to have a career in acting you must have a real passion for expressing humanity and the human condition and its a very rare craft. Also, actually study. It looks like we’re just picking up pages and reading lines but there is so much more of a process to it; get intimately involved in that process and find the technique or acting school that resonates with you.

For writers and directors, my biggest advice would be to study and learn everything you can [about the] craft. It looks like people are just pointing the camera in one direction and telling people what to do but there’s a history, a technique, a craft and a skill to filmmaking and writing.

Bland: Get clear on your why and set the intention behind your intentions. [I] originally heard that from Ava Duvernay when she did a speech at SXSW some years back, and I can honestly say that’s the foundation of GIANTS and the reason it has had the success it's had. The intention was never to win an Emmy. We didn’t set out to create this show to get praise and acknowledgment and to 'walk red carpets,' but it was a pure intention of 'Let’s create a gym for ourselves to work out so we can improve our craft,' and also 'Let’s say something that has the ability to really touch the hearts of men, that can potentially inspire people to live better lives. Let's create something that offers a mirror to where people can see themselves.'

The greatest joy of GIANTS has been the messages that we receive from people around the world saying 'you saved my life.' We have a great fanbase in Africa; in Nigeria and Ghana. I remember this message I got on Facebook from this lady that said, for the first time she had seen herself through Journee in her own personal struggle with mental illness. For years she struggled in silence and she didn’t have a way to explain to her family and friends what it was like and now that Journee existed, she could point to her and say “It's like that.”

Because the intention and the why was to inspire and develop our craft, I think the universe has aligned with those intentions so perfectly and as a result, you see 11 Daytime Emmy nominations,  you see television distribution, a licensing deal and you see red carpets, but our intention was a grounded place.

Also, be of service. GIANTS is largely inspired by the story of David in the Bible and him having to see Goliath, but what many people don’t know is he was going to the battlefield to be of service. He was there to take his brother's lunch who were soldiers, he wasn’t going there to battle. When he went to be of service, God used him to slay the giant. Once he slayed the giant, that's when he became [a] king and stepped into his fullness and his destiny.

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Photo: GIANTS

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